Nikon D6 Review

Nikon D6 review
Review

Price when reviewed

£6299

$6496.95
Check current price

Our Verdict

If you're a professional photographer and you need a solid, dependable camera that has fast responses, can cope with low light and delivers sharp images in a wide range of conditions, then the Nikon D6 is a great choice. However, its Live View and video autofocus system is out of step with cameras that have phase detection focusing and although it can shoot high-quality 4K video, it's not the logical choice of camera to do so. To summarise the Nikon D6, it's a great DSLR but it only makes a fairly modest step-up from the D5, suggesting that Nikon has run out of ideas.

For

  • 14fps shooting with continuous focusing
  • Superb AF system for use with the viewfinder
  • Great low-light performance

Against

  • Contrast detection AF in Live View and video mode
  • Fixed screen is frustrating in Live View mode
  • Huge price
What is the Nikon D6?

The Nikon D6 is the replacement for the D5, Nikon’s flagship DSLR which is aimed at professional news and sports photographers. It represents the pinnacle of DSLR development, competing with the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III.

The D6 is designed to be used every day in the harshest of environments by photographers who need a fast, reliable camera. It’s a full-frame model, which means its 20.8Mp sensor has the same dimensions as a 35mm film frame.

Nikon D6 Price and Availability

At launch, the Nikon D6 is priced at £6,299 / €7,499 and it went on sale in May 2020.

Specification

  • Camera type: DSLR
  • Announced: 12th February 2020
  • Sensor: 20.8mm full-frame (35.9 x 23.9mm) CMOS
  • Lens mount: Nikon F
  • Processing engine: Expeed 6
  • Viewfinder: Eye-level pentaprism with 100% coverage, 0.72x magnification (with 50 mm f/1.4 lens at infinity, -1.0 m-¹), 17mm eye-point and -3 to +1 m-¹ diopter adjustment
  • Screen: Fixed 3.2–inch 2359k-dot TFT touch-sensitive LCD
  • Sensitivity: ISO 100 to 102,400, expandable to ISO 50-3,280,000
  • Continuous shooting: Up to 14 fps, Continuous Low: 1 to 10 fps, Continuous High: 10 to 14 fps, Quiet: 1 to 5 fps
  • Shutter speed: 1/8000 to 30sec, Bulb; Time; X250
  • Autofocus system: Viewfinder: TTL phase-detection with 105 focus points, all cross-type, 15 at f/8, Live view: Contrast-detect AF, focus point selected by camera when face detection or subject-tracking is used.
  • AF-area mode: Viewfinder: Single-point AF; 9-, 25-, 49-, or 105- point dynamic-area AF; 3D-tracking; group-area AF; group-area AF (C1); group-area AF (C2); auto-area AF, Live view: Face-detection AF, wide-area AF, normal-area AF, subject-tracking AF
  • Video resolutions: 3840 x 2160 (4K UHD); 30p (progressive), 25p, 24p, 1920 x 1080; 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, 24p, 1280 x 720: 60p, 50p, 1920 x 1080 crop: 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, 24p¹; Actual frame rates for 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, and 24p are 59.94, 50, 29.97, 25, and 23.976 fps respectively
  • Storage: Dual CFexpress (Type B) and XQD memory cards
  • Connectivity: USB-C, HDMI Type C, 3.5mm mic port, 3.5mm headphone port, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
  • Battery: One EN-EL18c rechargeable Li-ion battery
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 160 x 163 x 92mm / 6.3 x 6.5 x 3.7inches
  • Weight: 1450g / 3 lb. 3.2 oz. with battery and two CFexpress cards, 1270 g / 2 lb. 12.8 oz. body only
Nikon D6
Features

The Nikon D5 is a phenomenal DSLR and it’s not really surprising that the D6 only makes a few improvements upon it. I think we’re now hitting the buffers of what can be achieved with the SLR design.

Nikon has stuck with the same 20.8Mp effective pixel count for the D6 as the D5, resisting the temptation to go higher for headline-grabbing numbers. That’s a resolution that works well for news-gathering photographers, enabling sufficient detail capture while keeping files sizes manageable and noise under control.

Autofocus

Professional photographers are likely to find the changes made to the viewfinder-based autofocus (AF) system the most significant. In fact, the D6 has Nikon’s most advanced AF system to date.

Some may be surprised to learn that the Nikon D6 has fewer AF points than the D5, 105 versus 153. However, all 105 points are user-selectable on the D6 whereas only 55 of them are selectable on the D5. That gives photographers greater control over the focusing.

It’s also worth noting that all 105 of the D6’s AF points are cross-type.

While the AF points can be selected individually on the D6, they can also be selected in groups of 27 or 15.  Alternatively, the camera can select which of the 105 point to use automatically in Auto-Area AF mode.

There are also 17 customisable AF point groups available, which means the AF pattern can be set to suite the subject and shooting situation.

The ability to set the starting point for the focusing in Auto-Area AF or 3D tracking mode could also be very useful.

In addition, the D6 allows you to prioritise a subject’s eyes in Auto-Area AF or 3D tracking mode.

The Nikon D6’s central AF point is sensitive down to 4.5Ev while the other points are sensitive to 4Ev.

Continuous Shooting

While the Nikon D5 has a top-shooting rate of 14fps (frames per second), the focus and exposure are set at the start of the sequence and the mirror has to be locked-up. The rate drops to 12fps for normal shooting and with continuous focusing.

Nikon has managed to give the D6 14fps shooting with continuous AF. Those extra 2fps could make a significant difference to a photographer lining up at the finish line of the 100m final this summer.

Video

Naturally, the Nikon D6 is capable of shooting 4K (3840 x 2160) video at 30/25/24p. Full-HD (1920 x 1080) can be shot at up to 60p. I’m a little surprised that it can’t shoot at 120p for more slow-motion potential.

It’s also worth noting here that unlike the Nikon D780, the D6 doesn’t have phase detection focusing in Live View and video mode. Instead it relies on contrast detection. That’s surprising given how Nikon’s Live View technology has advanced with the arrival of the Nikon Z7, Z6 and Z50 mirrorless cameras.

Image Delivery

Photographers using a camera like the D6 need to send their images quickly. With that in mind, the D6 has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. In addition, the camera is compatible with Nikon’s WT-6 Wireless Transmitter that enables wireless network connections over a distance of up to 200m.

The WT-6 supports wireless LAN IEEE802.11ac and can be used as a remote receiver in HTTP mode.

Alternatively, a network cable connection enables images to transfer directly to a PC or FTP server. The D6’s wired LAN supports 1000BASE-T standard and is around 15% faster than the D5’s.

It’s also possible to prioritise the most important images using the touch-screen.

In addition, there’s SnapBridge technology inside to ping images automatically to your smartphone if you need.

Further good news is that there’s a GPS built-in for tagging images with location data.

Storage

There are two versions of the Nikon D5, one with two CF card slots and the other with two XQD card slots. The Nikon D6 has two memory card slots that are compatible with XQD and CFExpress cards.

Read our Nikon D5 review

Nikon D6 review
Build and Handling

Close inspection of the D6 indicates that it is almost identical to the D5 and has the same control layout. However, there’s a connection on one side for a Kensington lock for added security at some venues.

Thanks to its metal body and weatherproof seals, the D6 has the same tank-like feel as its predecessor.

As a dual-gripped camera, the D6 has two good, solid grips that are comfortable to use whether you’re  shooting in upright or horizontal format.

Nikon D6 review

Rather than making the control arrangement around the vertical grip shutter release the same as the horizontal one, there’s just one button along side the vertical button instead of  three. However, one of those three is the video record button which is less likely to be required with the camera in vertical orientation.

Screen and Viewfinder

As with the D5, Nikon has opted for a 3.2-inch 2,359,000-dot touchscreen. Again, this is fixed, limiting its usefulness when shooting in Live View or Video mode.

The argument against a tilting or articulating screen is that they weaken the overall build.

I shot with the Nikon D6 on a bright, sunny day in Iceland, surrounded by snow and ice, and later in the UK in bright May sunshine. That’s a very tough test of the screen’s ability to control reflections, and it coped well. Naturally, it’s not as easy to see some details on the screen as it is in the viewfinder, but the image is clearly visible.

The viewfinder is large and bright. It also shows 100% of the image that will be captured, so there are no surprises at the edges of the image.

Read our Nikon D780 review

Performance

As I found with the D5, shooting with the Nikon D6 is quite an exhilarating experience. For a start, the fact that its a DSLR means that there’s a mirror inside and when you shoot at 14fps people tend to take notice. Glance down at the 3.2-inch 2,359,000-dot screen to check your images and the details leap out at you. It’s enough to put a smile on my face.

While the Matrix metering puts in a good performance and can be relied upon to get the exposure ‘right’ on many occasions, I sometimes reduced the exposure by 1/3EV to make colours a bit more saturated – I found the same with the D5.

I also had a few issues with the white balance settings.

Effectively, Nikon has given the D6 five automatic white balance settings as follows:

  • Auto for automatic adjustment in most lighting
  • Auto 0 [Keep white (reduce warm colours)] to eliminate the warm colour cast of incandescent lighting
  • Auto1 [Keep overall atmosphere] to partially preserve the warm cast of incandescent lighting
  • Auto2 [Keep warm lighting colours] to preserve the warm cast of incandescent lighting
  • Natural lighting auto for use under natural light instead of Auto to produce colours closer to those seen by the naked eye

In bright sunshine, I find the Auto and Natural Auto settings produce results that are a bit too cool, and I much prefer to use the Direct sunlight option. And I struggled to find a setting that gave results I was consistently happy within the shade of a woodland on a bright sunny day. The solution is to use PRE (Preset manual) and set a custom value or adjust the raw file post-capture.

Autofocus

One of the benefits of using a high-end camera like the Nikon D6 is that the autofocus system can handle lower levels of light than most others. However, it pays to select the right autofocus mode for the conditions.

In the gloomy confines of a dense woodland, the 3D-tracking AF and Auto-area AF struggled to differentiate my small brown dog from the leaf-covered ground. If I set the AF point over him, the first few shots would be sharp but as he moved across the frame or the AF system got distracted, the focusing was off. However, when I switched to Single-point AF, 9-point or 25-point dynamic area AF I was rewarded with sharp images and a high hit rate.

Outside of the woodland in a field of grass that contrasted nicely with my dog’s brown fur and the 3D-tracking AF worked a treat. It latched on to him a bit quicker if I set the starting point over him, but on the whole, I’m very impressed with its performance.

For a full-frame DSLR, the D6 has a wide spread of AF points, but anyone who is used to shooting with a mirrorless camera is likely to get frustrated that the points don’t get closer to the edges of the frame.

Nikon D6 Image Quality

A camera like the Nikon D6 is intended to produce images that look good across the cover of a newspaper or on the home page of a news website, and it’s certainly more than capable of that.

I’d happily use the native sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 102,400 for news-gathering and reporting purposes. If the conditions really demanded it, I’d also consider using the first couple of expansion settings, the top few values (the maximum is ISO 3,280,000) seem largely pointless. The image quality is so poor that you struggle to recognise the subject amongst the noise.

When image quality is more important, I’d suggested keeping to ISO 64,000 or lower if possible. At ISO 64,000, luminance noise is obvious in even-toned areas of raw files at 50% scale on a computer monitor, but there’s also a very respectable level of detail visible. Simultaneously captured Jpegs look a bit softer than is ideal and if you zoom in to 100%, there’s some smudging.

While the images from the D6 look great and have nice contrast, I found the shadows don’t seem to withstand as much brightening as the Nikon Z7 or D850, which surprised me.

Video

In terms of detail, colour and exposure, the Nikon D6 is capable of producing very high quality video. However, the fixed screen doesn’t really lend itself to videography. It’s possible to connect an external monitor, to provide a clearer view, but there are probably other cameras that are better suited for that.

Also, the focusing in live view and mode isn’t great. It’s better than most older Nikon DSLRs, but it’s not a patch on the focusing of the Nikon D780 which benefits from having the same sensor as the Nikon Z6. That sensor has phase detection pixels and the improvement it makes the live view and video focusing is huge.

I shot video with the Nikon Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 G AF-S ED mounted on the D6 and in Continuous-AF mode, you can hear the lens ‘chattering’ even when the subject is motionless. If the subject moves, there’s a short delay before AF system responds and it doesn’t track well. That means that Single-AF or manual focusing are the best options for focusing when you’re shooting in video mode. Many videographers will be comfortable with that, but it seems rather behind the times.

Read our guide to the best Nikon cameras

Sample Images

Follow the link to browse and download full-resolution images from the Nikon D6.

Nikon D6 Image Gallery

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Verdict

The Nikon D5 is a robust and reliable workhorse of a camera that has served many professional photographers well. While the D6 doesn’t make a huge step forward in terms of specification or handling, it does enough to make professional sports and news photographers stick with a DSLR rather than switch to a mirrorless camera.

It has the start-up and response times that news and event photographers need, plus its AF system is capable of getting fast-moving subjects sharp – even in gloomy conditions.

Although it has some impressive specifications for video shooting, the fixed screen and the lack of phase detection focusing don’t make it a natural choice for recording video. It’s also a big, heavy camera that’s not ideally suited to being held at arm’s length, so a tripod is essential for video.

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